Most churches experiencing church-wide renewal also experience renewal among their deacons. Deacons in renewal congregations embrace a fresh vision for their essential calling. They move away from financial management, administration and governance and toward stewardship, mercy and the pursuit of justice. Diaconal renewal tends to proceed through the following four stages.
Here are four stages of diaconal renewal:
Stage 1: The discovery of a fresh vision for diaconal work
The first stage of diaconal renewal is embracing a vibrant new vision for diaconal work. Deacons rediscover the Acts 6 vision of caring for at-risk and disenfranchised members of a community which inaugurated the office of deacon. Together they imagine a world in which they are the tangible presence of Christ in and outside the walls of the church. This vision is empowered through new structures and new role expectations that finally allow deacons to be deacons.
Stage 2: Abundant generosity
Having discovered this new vision for being Jesus’ hands and feet in a broken world most renewed diaconates become generous to the fault. They give away every dollar that’s available to them and seek to meet every need that’s presented to them. They volunteer regularly, advocate passionately and seek to be a blessing with complete abandon. This stage is a joyous time as deacons connect with real people who have real needs and who are experiencing the real love of Christ through His church.
Stage 3: Disappointment and burn out
At a certain point stage two morphs into a third stage of disappointment and exhaustion. The long hours and heavy demands of loving those in need becomes overwhelming. Additionally, the dollars shared and the hours invested seem to have little long-term impact on the lives of those who are served. This is the low point of diaconal renewal.
Stage 4: Regression or progression
Having experienced disappointment and burn out, some deacons regress to a smaller vision that is less risky and less demanding. Some, sadly, even become cynical. Others, however, embrace a deeper wisdom and a better practice around several important realities including:
Diaconal ministry belongs to the entire church;
Relationships are more important than financial assistance;
“With” ministry is better than “to” ministry;
Dignity is discovered through personal responsibility;
Presenting problems almost always have deeper roots that defy simple solutions;
The greatest gift any deacon can offer is a relationship with Jesus Christ and His church.
Each stage is essential in diaconal renewal. An old saying says, “I knew a man who caught a cat by its tail and now knows ten things about cats he didn’t know before.” Each stage has its unique learnings that can only be discovered by taking hold of that stage firmly by its tail.